Turner Contemporary in Margate has revealed details of a new exhibition intended to shed light on the “little-known history” of work by African-American makers, whose creative outputs were influenced by the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Opening in February 2020, “We Will Walk—Art and Resistance in the American South” includes paintings, sculptural assemblages, and quilts ranging in date from the mid-20th century through the present day. All of the artists either hail from Alabama or one of its surrounding states, which together comprise a subregion of the US popularly known as the Deep South—long a hotbed of race relations and civil-rights resistance.
The exhibition is the brainchild of artist Hannah Collins, who spent three years conducting research after first encountering the works and some of the artists involved. She is joined by curator Paul Goodwin, Professor of Contemporary Art and Urbanism at University of the Arts London; his own specialty, according to the institution, includes a focus on “fugitive art practices.”
Collins was inspired in particular by the idea of the traditional “yard show,” in which creative practitioners temporarily display their work in outdoor spaces, including one’s porch or front yard. For example, keep an eye out in this show for Emmer Sewell’s multimedia sculptures, incorporating childrens’ dolls, empty beer cans, and flags, which were originally exhibited outside of her home in Marion County, Alabama.
Many of the artworks that will be on view were fashioned from salvaged materials—including old clothing or even musical instruments, as in the case of artist Freeman Vines—and demonstrate the significance of reusing and remaking, often dictated by necessity, custom, or culture within communities.
A series of quilts sourced from the isolated Alabama enclave of Boykin will also make their UK debut, following a critically lauded presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2002. Boykin, formerly known as Gee’s Bend, is largely populated by descendents of people enslaved on the Pettway plantation. The distinctive quilts, typically patched together from a variety of materials, including blue jeans or cornmeal sacks, have taken on a hallowed significance as symbols of resistance and survival.
“These extraordinary artworks have been hugely influential on the language of subsequent artists,” said Victoria Pomery, Director of Turner Contemporary, in a statement. “Bringing this exhibition to Margate highlights the global importance of creativity and its power to provoke change; fundamentally altering the course of an individual’s life, challenging social inequality and inspiring vital debate.”
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